Key Play: Fourth Down Fade Sums Up the Day

By John Morgan on November 13, 2019 at 8:30 am
Nov 9, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) drops back for a pass in the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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As we wrote on Tuesday, there were many reasons Penn State was handed their first loss of the season by Minnesota. The list is plentiful which makes choosing the key play difficult this week. Down 31-19, Penn State failed in the red zone and came up empty after the fourth down fade pass to KJ Hamler was knocked away by Minnesota's Chris Williamson. 

Usually, I look for a play that changed the complexion of the game, but this week I am picking the play that failed to do so. I could have picked the entire four downs, but it was the final play that put Penn State in a position that ended up being too much to overcome.

After two runs by Devyn Ford and one by Sean Clifford, Penn State faced a fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line. Penn State lined up with Jahan Dotson, Pat Freiermuth and KJ Hamler to Sean Clifford's right. Minnesota took a different approach and lined up with man-to-man on the outside, but then backed four defenders up onto the one-yard line ready to defend the pass, but still assigned to a man.

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On the play, Dotson and Freiermuth cut to the inside while KJ Hamler cut out to the back corner of the end zone. Defensive back Jordan Howden stuck on Freiermuth where Chris Williamson, who was lined up the deepest of the backs, stayed with Hamler.

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As you can see, Williamson stayed in his spot and avoided running into Howden which left him alone with Hamler. The play seemed to be designed to be a pick play of sorts to get Freiermuth open, but upon seeing that tight end was headed to double coverage, Clifford released the ball to Hamler, instead.

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From there, it was a simple play that Williamson was able to make as he adjusted and batted the ball away and keep the score at 31-19. Minnesota took over and punted, but not before taking an additional 4:21 off the clock.

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Penn State would eventually cut the lead to 31-26 with 2:28 remaining and get the ball back with a chance to take the lead. That never happened as Sean Clifford was intercepted on 3rd-and-24 with just over a minute to play to seal the game for the Golden Gophers. 

As mentioned, there were plenty of mistakes, but Penn State was done in by three trips to the red zone that resulted in just three points. Had the Nittany Lions scored there, the complexity of the game would have drastically changed, but like all the close losses over the past three seasons, you can play the "what if" game forever.

But that's enough about this game as the Nittany Lions still control their own destiny in the Big Ten. Penn State must find a way to bounce back and take care of business Saturday against Indiana and not let this game beat them twice.

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